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And this is where we come to the problems I had with the production; by the end of Act I, I was truly fed up with the constant busy-ness on stage, what with the comings and goings of servants, pots of tea, interviews with the press, chaperones, fetching and carrying towels etc. It was all realistically believable, but just a little incessant.
Blaze's narration opening Act 2, when he has to describe Jephtha's victory, successfully transformed Hamor from a lover to a man of action; not always an easy task with the counter tenor voice, which is typically soft grained. But this seems to be something that Blaze is adept at doing: witness his fine performance of Bertarido, in Glyndebourne's Rodelinda with his wonderful final, triumphant aria.
The public scenes of rejoicing were not a little tedious as the chorus indulged in rather too much running about. But Mitchell achieved something of a coup in Iphis's scene with her serving maids. As Iphis celebrates her father's achievement she dresses herself in her wedding dress, so that as she rejoiced, we knew that she was going to her death in her bridal gown.
The scene where Jephtha sees Iphis, and realises the consequences of his vow, was staged rather noisily as if Padmore and Mitchell did not quite trust Handel's music alone. But the chorus became still and for the remainder of the opera this stillness helped to emphasis the unnatural, changed nature of events as Act 2 worked its way movingly to a close.
One of the highlights of Act 2 was the quartet where Zebul, Storgè and Hamor try to persuade Jephtha to change his mind. Here Handel wrote a quartet of operatic proportions, producing, almost casually, music of a type which would become important in later operatic history but which was of limited interest to him.
Copyright © 13 June 2005
Robert Hugill, London UK